From A Dream to the Giant Screen: In Saturnís
Eight years ago, after seeing the first pictures
from the Cassini
spacecraftís arrival at Saturn, I dreamed of what it would be like to
have a motion picture camera flying through space, capturing the most
amazing footage in the history of movies.
That dream is becoming reality through the
immersive power of the giant screen and photographic animation
techniques that took eight years to develop. Audiences will fly through
space, from the Big Bang to the breathtaking ring world of Saturn, when In
Saturnís Rings (formerly Outside
In) is released in 2014 in 15/70mm, true 1.33-ratio 4K digital,
and native 4K fulldome. We are pleased to announce that In Saturnís Rings has signed a distribution agreement with BIG
& Digital for world-wide release.
Saturnís Rings began after I noticed the dearth of media coverage
surrounding Cassiniís arrival at Saturn in June 2004. It was not aired live on
any TV channel at all. In response, I wrote a one-act play about the
debate of exploring space. A few months later, dissatisfied with the
result, I wrote a script for a short art film that combined the play
with still images from space missions, notably Cassini.
I filmed two versions, with several script rewrites in between, but
never released them, as they failed to capture the scope of space
Then one day in early 2006, while listening to a
version of Adagio for Strings
by Samuel Barber, I imagined
creating moving images of Saturn using animation techniques I had seen
in the documentary The Kid Stays
in the Picture. I spent many long months struggling with these
techniques until finally I had a breakthrough with a black-and-white HD
resolution animation. At that point, I wrote a script for 12-minute
narrated film for planetariums and film festivals.
Everything changed when I had a chance meeting
Examinerís editor, James
Hyder, at a conference in
. Upon learning of my film plans, he simply said, ďThis film should be
on the giant screen.Ē Of course, I told him it was impossible. But the
next day I went to see Imax
Desolation at the Luxor
IMAX Theater. I instantly knew James was right: this film had to be
on the giant screen.
It took several years, my life savings,
breakthroughs in software and desktop computing technology, but finally,
I was able to make it work beyond my wildest expectations. During that
period, I wrote and rewrote the script. In 2009, after my annual viewing
of Stanley Kubrickís 2001:
A Space Odyssey, the film that inspired me to become a
filmmaker, I pinpointed what had never worked in earlier versions of my
scripts. There are only 11 minutes of dialogue in 2001ís
140 minutes. I realized what Kubrick and writer Arthur
C. Clarke understood: space is universal, primal, infinite. Words
simply fail to convey the experience of exploring space.
I had titled the original one-act play Outside
In, a phrase that was explained in the dialogue, and I kept that
title when it became a film project. To bring new audiences and new
interest to space exploration, I saw that the film would have to inspire
feelings, thoughts, and questions that arise when we have a powerful
experience along lifeís journey. I eventually came to see that the
title would have to be changed. That sense was confirmed by GSCA
screening surveys that showed that theaters found the name confusing.
The story of the film is a simple, direct
narrative. In Saturnís Rings
is a literal journey from the Big Bang of the universeís creation, to
a climactic fly-through of Saturnís system, where, in Saturnís
rings, we find the most incredible of Cassiniís
photographs ó a small fuzzy blue dot ó our home planet Earth.
It took me some time to come up with a name that
was true to the film and met legal and other requirements. One day the
title just fell out of my mouth when I was explaining the climax of the
film, that same famous Cassini
photograph of Saturn backlit by the Sun that has ďEarth in Saturnís
Rings.Ē Iíve always been a fan of titles that reveal their true
meaning at the climax of the film, and I knew that was it.
How it was made
Saturnís Rings is composed entirely of more than a million
photographs from space and historical sources, animated to full-motion
without CGI, 3D modeling, or simulations. The images are all real,
and create a powerful emotional response that is clearly evident when
viewed by audiences. Many of the photographs used in the film, from
Cassini images buried on obscure web servers to long-lost Apollo
high-resolution aerial scans, were extremely hard to find and have been
seen by only a very few people on planet Earth.
While the basic techniques used in the film were
developed from the 2.5D animations used in The
Kid Stays in the Picture, I soon found those technique failed with
Saturnís rings. I also wanted to take the motion much further, well
beyond a simple zoom and scale, to give a true sense of flying. So I
spent countless hours researching and experimenting with various old
methods, drawing on everything from perspective optical illusions used
in theater and architecture to moving 2D flats from pre-CGI cinema days.
I also studied the famous ďBullet-timeĒ effect from The
Matrix films, which uses a large array of still cameras arranged
around a subject and fired off in quick succession.
Eventually I was able to develop a toolbox of
techniques to cover all the scenarios that I would encounter in a
ďflying through spaceĒ film, without having to resort to
computer-generated pixels. This way, the film would be 100% photographs.
In some scenes a single photograph is used per frame, but many frames
are giant collages of thousands of photographs seamlessly arranged, then
animated to create the feeling of flying. Theoretically, every shot in
the film could have been done without a computer. Given a large enough
room, a motion-controlled still camera rig, and hundreds of thousands of
printed photographs, all on their own motion-controlled rigs, the film
could have been shot entirely in-camera. Of course, there are probably
not enough motion-control rigs in the whole world, and computers made it
By keeping to a simple, narration-free journey,
the film will give audiences the experience of being an astronaut, as
they take a journey that will feel real because it uses only real
images. The film taps into the deepest part of manís longing to fly,
to explore, to discover things never seen before. In
Saturnís Rings also transcends boundaries, touching audiences of
all backgrounds, ages, and geographic locations.
This was demonstrated shortly after I posted the
first minute of footage on the Web in 2010. In early 2011, the clip went
viral, generating millions of plays in hundreds of media outlets around
the world, and garnering praise from major media and scientific
celebrities like Bill Nye,
host of PBSís Bill Nye, The
The exposure has led to an incredible number of
passionate and dedicated volunteers, including college astronomy
departments and scientists, who are now contributing hundreds and
thousands of hours of labor to the film. This has allowed its scope to
be expanded dramatically. Over 35 leading amateur space image processors
have donated their images to the film, many representing hundreds of
hours of work.
One of these is Colin
Legg, a talented time-lapse astrophotographer from Australia, who
shot a 12-day and 12-night time-lapse sequence of the dark night sky for
the film, using a five-camera rig he built to create a one-of-a-kind,
high-resolution sequence. Also in
, Adam Kil, by day a
satellite image processor, spent months compiling image strips from the
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, many not yet fully processed by NASA.
Nearer to me, the astronomy department of Guilford
Technical Community College in
, has taken charge of
mapping a huge amount of Hubble photographic data for use in the
filmís Big Bang sequence. Three more volunteers ó a filmmaker from
, a solar researcher from
, and a computer programmer from
ó are helping out as well.
Work is roughly two-thirds complete and is
proceeding well. My goal is to finish the film in December 2013 with an
industry premiere in spring 2014. The first official teaser trailer will
premiere at the Giant Screen
Cinema Associationís Film Expo in March 2013, where I also hope to
show some extended footage. At GSCAís annual conference in
in September, I will show several sections of the film in rough-cut
form, as well as an updated trailer.
While the core funding to finish the digital
master is fully in place, I plan to start another round of crowd-sourced
funding for some wish-list items, including a full orchestral recording
of the score and select music licenses.
Versions for all theaters
Saturnís Rings is being created in four formats, each of which
will be available in 45Ė and 20Ėminute versions:
A flat-screen, 1.33-ratio, 4K giant-screen version for
digital and 15/70
A dome-optimized master for digital and 15/70
A native fulldome version, not stretched, converted, or
modified, with true fulldome camera field-of-view
A digital cinema 4K/2K version in flat 1.85 aspect ratio
While this takes longer, it insures that each
and every viewer will have the best possible experience of the film.
For the institutional giant-screen theater, In
Saturnís Rings will do what GS films do well: provoke a profound
emotional response and leave audience members full of questions when the
credits end and the lights come on. Science centers, planetariums, and
learning institutions are the perfect venues for audiences to learn
more, ask more questions, and ultimately become passionately involved
with space exploration.
Internet interest in
In Saturnís Rings has been extremely strong and will only grow as
the first teaser trailer is released in December. The film already has a
very large social-media audience, many of whom have supported it through
The support of passionate fans is why Iím so
optimistic about the future of In
Saturnís Rings. To me, itís the ultimate giant-screen film I
want to see. And now I know that my own personal passion is being shared
by millions around the world. Together our dream is becoming reality.
For more information, film In Saturnís Rings on Facebook, Twitter, and at the filmís
official website, www.insaturnsrings.com
van Vuuren is an award-winning filmmaker, musician, photographer and
ubergeek. He grew up in
. His father purchased him a manual 35mm camera when he was 12 and his
love of image-making began.